What are the Influences on the Food System?

A food system is influenced by a variety of social, political, economic and environmental contexts. In a pan-European study, it was found that women, older subjects and more educated subjects considered “health aspects” to be particularly important when making food choices. Men, on the other hand, more often selected “flavor” and “habit” as the main determinants of their food choice. This means that interventions aimed at these groups should take into account their perceived determinants of food choice.

The economic benefits of agriculture have been volatile and below the current market rates of return on capital and labor (Cochrane, 199). This has led economists and sociologists to try to understand the motivation of agricultural operators to persist in agriculture (Gardner, 2002; Reinhardt and Barlett, 198). Reasons for engaging in agriculture and remaining in it include the desire to maintain a family tradition, be your own boss, work outdoors and spend time with you and teach your children's work ethic (Barlett, 1993; Gasson and Errington, 1999). Rural communities that are home to large populations of agricultural workers often struggle to meet the unique educational and social service needs of this group (Findeis et al.).

Farmworker cities in California's Central Valley have some of the lowest per capita incomes, the poorest public services, and the most stressful local fiscal conditions of all rural communities in the United States (Martin, 200). Low wages, seasonal farmworkers and migrant workers rarely have access to important protections such as workers' compensation (NCFH, 201). According to data collected by Farmworker Justice, only 13 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands require employers to provide workers' compensation insurance or equivalent benefits to migrant and seasonal workers; this coverage is optional in 16 states (Farmworker Justice, 200). This lack of coverage is important because when workers are sick or injured they don't receive compensation; workers who miss work are also likely to lose their jobs.

Most food system workers including farm workers don't have paid sick days or don't know if they have them and have worked when they are sick (FCWA, 201). Non-U. S. citizens cannot obtain insurance under the ACA and because the food system employs so many undocumented immigrants they will continue to be part of the uninsured population (NILC, 201).

Immigrants who are legally in the United States can only receive limited federal health care coverage (NILC, 201). The competitive pressures within each sector (and between sectors) have been the main drivers of changes in technology and organizational structure (for example). These in turn drive economic efficiency, opportunities and rewards for labor and food choices for consumers. Given the global nature of many agricultural input companies as well as the skills in chemistry and biological systems that are needed, there is likely to be an increased demand for workers with higher education levels to fill these positions.

This sector is comprised of first-line handlers who receive package and store raw agricultural products for shipment to the next part of the food supply chain as well as food processors and manufacturers who convert ingredients into edible packaged storable and safe foods for final preparation and consumption by consumers or food service establishments (see chapter). Many companies that purchase agricultural products do so through contracts that guarantee the purchase of a certain quantity of product at a predetermined price assuming that the raw materials meet the buyer's quality specifications. The advantage of this agreement is that it alleviates the farmer's risk of not finding a market and not knowing what the price will be at harvest time. It can also provide an opportunity to protect against price drops in case of unforeseen market circumstances.

Company contracts also provide technical advice and establish quality and safety standards that help ensure a uniform supply of products that will be accepted by intermediate markets. The demand by processors and retailers for consistent product size and quality plays an important role in contract farming benefits. An example is the livestock supply chain where vertical coordination has caused changes in trade relations. In poultry production producers are paid according to their productivity relative to other farmers but are much less certain about what price they will receive at season end (Leonard, 201).

The concentration of market shares in a few companies can lead to a possible loss of competition and decrease in market transparency. This sector provides transportation and storage services for food and agricultural products among other sectors. It includes warehousing road transport procurement services etc. This sector is essential for availability of food in remote areas as well as cities far from production sites.

On the food service side traditional wholesalers continue to dominate because they serve many small retail businesses with specialty orders. The agricultural input sector also has wholesalers with nine percent delivering agricultural supplies while another nine percent sell raw agricultural products intended for processors (U. S.). Retail jobs involve lifting heavy objects using potentially hazardous equipment putting workers at risk of back injuries lacerations or amputations.

In addition psychosocial factors such as work-related stress shift work are important considerations for these employees. This sector includes individually owned restaurants mid-price chains quick-service establishments (fast food) hotels beverage outlets etc which adapt to individual customer tastes.

Sally Koepke
Sally Koepke

Certified web trailblazer. General twitteraholic. Friendly beer advocate. Friendly zombie expert. Extreme social media enthusiast.

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